“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” -Simone Weil
The day after Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest days of the year for Ashley Madison, the dating website that facilitates affairs. Disappointment and frustration over all the ways that one feels neglected and misunderstood crystallize on this holiday of love; for many, it is the breaking point. Avoiding this critical juncture in your relationship is rarely about finding the right card or gift on Valentine’s Day. The attention and emotional connection that is lacking in a relationship happens over time, eating away at the confidence and trust we build in each other over time. Even well-meaning gifts can feel shallow, and ironically, often exacerbate the distance and unspoken conflict. It isn’t really the gifts that do this, it is the longing for intimate connection that has to find a voice.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, consider re-igniting the romance in your relationship, starting with your attention. All early romance shares this secret space, where two people are so deeply interested in the other, that every gaze feels like being held in a warm embrace. Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, captured this experience perfectly when she wrote, “Whenever she turned her steep focus to me, I felt the warmth that flowers must feel when they bloom through the snow, under the first concentrated rays of the sun.” Indeed, there may be no more healing balm than the soft and steady gaze of loving eyes resting on our face, or the sweet peace of feeling deeply heard by someone who loves you. I have come to believe that this is really all we ever want- the full presence and attention of love.
Sadly, inattention can morph into many kinds of hurtful distraction. We cease to be paying attention to someone when we hold them judgmentally. We are not paying attention when we are doing three other things simultaneously. We are unable to attend to someone else lovingly when we are struggling with our own pain, fear and insecurities. We have to be full enough of ourselves to give our full attention to our beloved. This is the tragic decline of too many relationships, where neither person is full enough to offer the attention that the other needs. I spent years in this debilitating cycle in my own marriage. Here is the key that most people miss when the door is shutting behind them: Attention begets attention. When you give it, it is like a boomerang on its way back to you.
Taking this concept of attention one step further into the bedroom can be profoundly healing. Not surprisingly, when we feel invisible to each other in daily life, we are disinclined to bare ourselves. Yet, one of the sexiest ways to practice paying attention to the loving presence of your partner is to try “smoking” them. This is a term that my husband coined when we come together under the powerful spell of some exotic love oils. Our sense of smell is our most powerful attention grabber because our olfactory bulb lives in the center of our limbic brain, where we store memories, process emotions and ignite our arousal mechanism. The noise and chatter that often blocks us from true connection is cut away when you know someone through scent.
Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets said this: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” You will be amazed by this resource, which already lives in you, ready for use. Re-igniting the romance and feeding the love that you have given your life to, is as easy as paying attention.